461 U.S. 731 (1983), 81-2257, Bill Johnson's Restaurants, Inc. v. N.l.r.b.

Docket NºNo. 81-2257.
Citation461 U.S. 731, 103 S.Ct. 2161, 76 L.Ed.2d 277
Party NameBILL JOHNSON'S RESTAURANTS, INC., Petitioner v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD.
Case DateMay 31, 1983
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 731

461 U.S. 731 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 2161, 76 L.Ed.2d 277

BILL JOHNSON'S RESTAURANTS, INC., Petitioner

v.

NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD.

No. 81-2257.

United States Supreme Court.

May 31, 1983

Argued March 29, 1983.

Employer sought review of a National Labor Relations Board order, and the Board cross-petitioned for enforcement. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 660 F.2d 1335, enforced the order. Certiorari was granted. The Supreme Court, Justice White, held that: (1) the filing and prosecution of a well-founded lawsuit by an employer may not be enjoined as an unfair labor practice, even if it would not have been commenced but for the employer's desire to retaliate against an employee for exercising protected rights; (2) it is an enjoinable unfair labor practice to prosecute a baseless lawsuit with the intent of retaliating against an employee; (3) in determining whether a state-court suit lacks a reasonable basis, the NLRB is not limited to considering the bare pleadings, but its inquiry must be structured in a manner that will preserve the employer's right to have a state-court jury or judge resolve genuine material factual or state-law legal issues pertaining to the lawsuit; and (4) it [103 S.Ct. 2162] was not within the ALJ's province, based on his own evaluation of the evidence, to determine that the libel and business-interference counts in the employer's state-court suit were in fact without merit.

Vacated and remanded.

Justice Brennan filed a concurring opinion.

[103 S.Ct. 2163] Syllabus[*]

SYLLABUS

After one Helton, a waitress at petitioner's restaurant, filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleging that she had been fired because of her efforts to organize a union, Helton and others, including other waitresses, picketed the restaurant and distributed leaflets. Petitioner and three of its co-owners then filed a suit for damages and injunctive relief against Helton and the other demonstrators in an Arizona state court, alleging that the defendants had harassed customers, blocked access to the restaurant, created a threat to public safety, and libeled plaintiffs by false statements in the leaflets. On the following day, Helton filed a second charge with the NLRB, alleging, inter alia, that petitioner had filed the civil suit in retaliation for the defendants' protected, concerted activities and the filing of charges against petitioner with the NLRB. After a consolidated hearing on the unfair labor practice complaints, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) concluded that, "on the basis of the record and from [his] observation of the witnesses," the evidence failed to support the allegations of the complaint in the state-court action, and that such action [103 S.Ct. 2164] thus lacked a "reasonable basis" and its prosecution was retaliatory, in violation of §§ 8(a)(1) and (4) of the National Labor Relations Act (Act). On petitioner's appeal, the NLRB adopted, with minor exceptions, the ALJ's findings and recommendations, and ordered petitioner to withdraw its state-court complaint. The Court of Appeals enforced the NLRB's order.

Held:

1. The NLRB may not halt the prosecution of a state-court lawsuit, regardless of the plaintiff's motive, unless the suit lacks a reasonable basis in fact or law. Retaliatory motive and lack of reasonable basis are both essential prerequisites to the issuance of a cease-and-desist order against a state suit. Pp. 2168-2171.

(a) The filing and prosecution of a well-founded lawsuit may not be enjoined as an unfair labor practice, even if it would not have been commenced but for the plaintiff's desire to retaliate against the defendant for exercising rights protected by the Act. The Act's provisions guaranteeing employees the enjoyment of their rights to unionize, engage

Page 732

in concerted activity, and utilize the NLRB's processes without fear of coercion or retaliation by their employer are to be liberally construed. However, countervailing considerations against allowing the NLRB to condemn the filing of a suit as an unfair labor practice include the First Amendment right of access to the courts and the States' compelling interests in maintaining domestic peace and protecting its citizens' health and welfare. Thus, the NLRB's interpretation of the Act that the only essential element of a violation by the employer is retaliatory motive in filing a state-court suit is untenable. Pp. 2168-2170.

(b) However, it is an enjoinable unfair labor practice to prosecute a baseless lawsuit with the intent of retaliating against an employee for the exercise of rights protected by the Act. Such suits are not within the scope of First Amendment protection, and the state interests noted above do not enter into play when the suit has no reasonable basis. Pp. 2170-2171.

2. In determining whether a state-court suit lacks a reasonable basis, the NLRB is not limited to considering the bare pleadings in the suit, but its inquiry must be structured in a manner that will preserve the state plaintiff's right to have a state-court jury or judge resolve genuine material factual or state-law legal disputes pertaining to the lawsuit. Therefore, if the NLRB is called upon to determine whether a suit is unlawful prior to the time that the state court renders final judgment, and if the state plaintiff can show that such genuine material factual or legal issues exist, the NLRB must await the results of the state-court adjudication with respect to the merits of the state suit. If the state proceedings result in a judgment adverse to the plaintiff, the NLRB may then consider the matter further and, if it is found that the lawsuit was filed with retaliatory intent, the NLRB may find a violation and order appropriate relief. Pp. 2171-2172.

3. This case must be returned to the NLRB for further consideration in light of the proper standards. It was not the ALJ's province, based on his own evaluation of the evidence, to determine that the libel and business-interference counts in petitioner's state-court suit were in fact without merit. He should have limited his inquiry to the question whether petitioner's evidence raised factual issues that were genuine and material. Furthermore, because, in enforcing the NLRB's order, the Court of Appeals ultimately relied on the fact that "substantial evidence" supported the NLRB's finding that the prosecution of the lawsuit violated the Act, the NLRB's error has not been cured. Pp. 2172-2173.

660 F.2d 1335 (9th Cir.1981), vacated and remanded.

COUNSEL

Page 733

Lawrence Allen Katz argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner.

Carolyn F. Corwin argued the cause for respondent. With her on the brief wereSolicitor General Lee, Deputy Solicitor General Wallace, Norton J. Come, Linda Sher, and Candance M. Carroll.*

*J. Albert Woll, Laurence Gold, Michael H. Gottesman, and Jeremiah A. Collins filed a brief for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations as amicus curiae urging affirmance.

Edward B. Miller, Matthew R. McArthur, and Stephen A. Bokat filed a brief for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States as amicus curiae.

Lawrence Allen Katz, Phoenix, Ariz., for petitioner.

Carolyn F. Corwin, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

OPINION

[103 S.Ct. 2165] Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

We must decide whether the Board may issue a cease-and-desist order to halt the prosecution of a state court civil suit brought by an employer to retaliate against employees for exercising federally-protected labor rights, without also finding that the suit lacks a reasonable basis in fact or law.

I

The present controversy arises out of a labor dispute at "Bill Johnson's Big Apple East," one of four restaurants owned and operated by the petitioner in Phoenix, Arizona. It began on August 8, 1978, when petitioner fired Myrland Helton, one of the most senior waitresses at the restaurant. Believing that her termination was the result of her efforts to organize a union, she filed unfair labor practice charges against the restaurant with the Board.

On September 20, after an investigation, the Board's General Counsel issued a complaint. On the same day, Helton, joined by three co-waitresses and a few others, picketed the restaurant. The picketers carried signs asking customers to boycott the restaurant because its management was unfair to the waitresses. Petitioner's manager confronted the picketers and threatened to "get even" with them "if it's the last thing I do." Petitioner's president telephoned the husband

Page 734

of one of the picketing waitresses and impliedly threatened that the couple would "get hurt" and lose their new home if the wife continued to participate in the protest. The picketing continued on September 21 and 22. In addition, the picketers distributed a leaflet that accused management of making "[u]nwarranted sexual advances" and maintaining a "filthy restroom for women employees." The leaflet also stated that a complaint against the restaurant had been filed by the Board and that Helton had been fired after suggesting that a union be organized.

On the morning of September 25, petitioner and three of its co-owners filed a verified complaint against Helton and the other demonstrators in an Arizona state court. Plaintiffs alleged that the defendants had engaged in mass picketing, harassed customers, blocked public ingress to and egress from the restaurant, and created a threat to public safety. The complaint also contained a libel count, alleging that the leaflet contained false and outrageous statements published by the defendants with the malicious intent to injure the plaintiffs. The complaint sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, as well as compensatory damages, $500,000 in punitive damages, and appropriate further legal and equitable relief....

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1166 practice notes
  • 426 F.Supp.2d 827 (N.D.Ill. 2006), 05 C 2558, Beltran v. Brentwood North Healthcare Center, LLC
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 7th Circuit United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • 4 Abril 2006
    ...intent to retaliate may constitute retaliation in violation of the FLSA. Id.; see Bill Johnson's Rest., Inc. v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd., 461 U.S. 731, 743-744, 103 S.Ct. 2161, 76 L.Ed.2d 277 (1983) (baseless lawsuit filed with retaliatory motive is enjoinable as unfair labor practice wher......
  • 717 F.2d 1264 (9th Cir. 1983), 83-3537, Matter of Federal Shopping Way, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • 15 Septiembre 1983
    ...and ultimately this Court. Id. at 287, 90 S.Ct. at 1743 (emphasis added). See Bill Johnson's Restaurants, Inc. v. NLRB, --- U.S. ----, 103 S.Ct. 2161, 76 L.Ed.2d 277 (1983) (NLRB has no power to enjoin employer from prosecuting in state court a state claim unless it is patently frivolous, e......
  • 820 F.2d 1044 (9th Cir. 1987), 86-2343, Stallcop v. Kaiser Foundation Hospitals
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • 23 Junio 1987
    ...and the granting of summary judgment destroyed her right of access to the courts, relying on Bill Johnson's Restaurants, Inc. v. NLRB, 461 U.S. 731, 103 S.Ct. 2161, 76 L.Ed.2d 277 (1983). In Bill Johnson, the Supreme Court held that the NLRB may not halt the prosecution of a state court law......
  • Goldwater v. Brewer, 020311 AZAPP1, 1 CA-CV 10-0071
    • United States
    • Arizona Court of Appeals of Arizona
    • 3 Febrero 2011
    ...that inmates have a right of access to the courts under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Bill Johnson's Rests., Inc. v. N.L.R.B., 461 U.S. 731, 741 (1983) (identifying the right of court access as an aspect of the right to petition the government for redress of grievances). The right gu......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1146 cases
  • 426 F.Supp.2d 827 (N.D.Ill. 2006), 05 C 2558, Beltran v. Brentwood North Healthcare Center, LLC
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 7th Circuit United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • 4 Abril 2006
    ...intent to retaliate may constitute retaliation in violation of the FLSA. Id.; see Bill Johnson's Rest., Inc. v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd., 461 U.S. 731, 743-744, 103 S.Ct. 2161, 76 L.Ed.2d 277 (1983) (baseless lawsuit filed with retaliatory motive is enjoinable as unfair labor practice wher......
  • 717 F.2d 1264 (9th Cir. 1983), 83-3537, Matter of Federal Shopping Way, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • 15 Septiembre 1983
    ...and ultimately this Court. Id. at 287, 90 S.Ct. at 1743 (emphasis added). See Bill Johnson's Restaurants, Inc. v. NLRB, --- U.S. ----, 103 S.Ct. 2161, 76 L.Ed.2d 277 (1983) (NLRB has no power to enjoin employer from prosecuting in state court a state claim unless it is patently frivolous, e......
  • 820 F.2d 1044 (9th Cir. 1987), 86-2343, Stallcop v. Kaiser Foundation Hospitals
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • 23 Junio 1987
    ...and the granting of summary judgment destroyed her right of access to the courts, relying on Bill Johnson's Restaurants, Inc. v. NLRB, 461 U.S. 731, 103 S.Ct. 2161, 76 L.Ed.2d 277 (1983). In Bill Johnson, the Supreme Court held that the NLRB may not halt the prosecution of a state court law......
  • Goldwater v. Brewer, 020311 AZAPP1, 1 CA-CV 10-0071
    • United States
    • Arizona Court of Appeals of Arizona
    • 3 Febrero 2011
    ...that inmates have a right of access to the courts under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Bill Johnson's Rests., Inc. v. N.L.R.B., 461 U.S. 731, 741 (1983) (identifying the right of court access as an aspect of the right to petition the government for redress of grievances). The right gu......
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6 firm's commentaries
  • The Connecticut Anti-SLAPP Statute: A Tool To Protect Constitutional Rights And Freedoms Of Defendants
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • 5 Noviembre 2020
    ...of grievances. Id. (citing Reardon v. Keating, 980 F.Sup.2d 302, 310 (D.Conn. 2013)). See also Bill Johnson's Rests., Inc. v. NLRB, 461 U.S. 731, 745-46 (1983) ("When a suit presents genuine factual issues, the [] plaintiff's First Amendment interest in petitioning the state court for ......
  • Supreme Court Docket Reports - 2001 Term, Number 6 / January 4, 2002
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • 7 Junio 2002
    ...2001). The court of appeals invoked the standard of liability announced by the Supreme Court in Bill Johnson's Restaurants, Inc. v. NLRB, 461 U.S. 731 (1983). The Sixth Circuit interpreted Bill Johnson's as holding that, once an employer's claims have been dismissed or voluntarily withdrawn......
  • Update: Finding the Earliest and Least Expensive Exit from Financial Services Class Actions
    • United States
    • JD Supra United States
    • 26 Febrero 2015
    ...made to the judicial branch during litigation proceedings and in preparation for such proceedings. Bill Johnson’s Rest. v. NLRB, 461 U.S. 731, 741 (1983); Cal. Motor Transp. v. Trucking Unlimited, 404 U.S. 508, 510 (1972); Andrx Pharm. v. Elan Corp., 421 F.3d 1227, 1233 (11th Cir. 2005) (“S......
  • Finding the Earliest and Least Expensive Exit From Financial Services Class Actions
    • United States
    • JD Supra United States
    • 3 Marzo 2015
    ...made to the judicial branch during litigation proceedings and in preparation for such proceedings. Bill Johnson’s Rest. v. NLRB, 461 U.S. 731, 741 (1983); Cal. Motor Transp. v. Trucking Unlimited, 404 U.S. 508, 510 (1972); Andrx Pharm. v. Elan Corp., 421 F.3d 1227, 1233 (11th Cir. 2005) (“S......
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14 books & journal articles
  • Exceptional freedom - the Roberts Court, the First Amendment, and the new absolutism.
    • United States
    • Albany Law Review Vol. 76 Nbr. 1, September 2012
    • 22 Septiembre 2012
    ...statements of fact'" (quoting Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 340 (1974))); Bill Johnson's Restaurants, Inc. v. NLRB, 461 U.S. 731, 743 (1983) ("[F]alse statements are not immunized by the First Amendment right to freedom of speech."); Brown v. Hartlage, 456 U.S. 4......
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    • Case Western Reserve Law Review Vol. 61 Nbr. 3, March - March 2011
    • 22 Marzo 2011
    ...persons, which included filing a lawsuit, without discussing First Amendment issues). See generally Bill Johnson's Rests., Inc. v. NLRB, 461 U.S. 731, 743 (1983) (holding that baseless litigation is not protected by the First Amendment's right to petition). (286) See, e.g., LeBlanc-Stemberg......
  • Second Amendment Federalism.
    • United States
    • Stanford Law Review Vol. 73 Nbr. 3, March 2021
    • 1 Marzo 2021
    ...debates). (49.) Guarnieri, 564 U.S. at 395-98. (50.) Id. at 388 (emphasis added). (51.) See Bill Johnson's Rests., Inc. v. NLRB, 461 U.S. 731, 743 (1983) ("[B]aseless litigation is not immunized by the First Amendment right to petition."); Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 64, 75 (1......
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    • United States
    • Case Western Reserve Law Review Vol. 61 Nbr. 2, December 2010
    • 22 Diciembre 2010
    ...employers from firing at-will employees in retaliation for their testifying in federal proceedings); Bill Johnson's Rests., Inc. v. NLRB, 461 U.S. 731, 744 (1983) (allowing courts to enjoin employers from prosecuting "baseless" lawsuits that are designed to retaliate against emplo......
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